Andrew McAfee and the narcissists

Andrew McAfee is the creator of the term enterprise 2.0 and an influential thinker about how different generations use technology at work.  He has an interesting and provocative contribution to the Harvard Business Review’s blogs at http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/mcafee/2010/09/a-few-years-back-i.html

Reading McAfee’s post and the comments that it prompted, I am struck by quite how slippery some of the definitions are. McAfee clearly sees narcissism as a negative form of self-absorption stemming from a lack of confidence, rather analogous to the traditional assumption that playground bullies at school use aggressive behaviour to cover up a lack of confidence. But I’m also interested in the different forms that a self-centred perspective can take. There’s a world of difference between expecting to be able to tailor the technology you use at work, or the hours that you work, to your circumstances (as members of generation Y tend to do) and the sort of hubris that McAfee observes in some of his MBAs. Come to that, narcissists might share the trait of being self-centred with people who have Aspergers Syndrome, but the two conditions manifest themselves in very different ways.

And I have to say that the comments are very hard on the baby boomers, a category that I think includes Andrew McAfee although a quick look around the Internet doesn’t reveal any indication of his age. Not only is there the suggestion that the boomers, with their desire to change the world, had plenty of narcissistic tendencies of their own, but there are some possibly troubling posts from self-confessed narcissts in generation Y, who are eager to blame their own failings on their boomer parents.

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